Lady Warriors enjoying the ride, readying for the fight at Sweet 16

Published 4:15 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2024

No matter how long or short the Danville Christian girls’ stay at the state tournament turns out to be, they’re planning to make the most of it.

Coach Billy Inmon said he wants the Lady Warriors to enjoy every minute of the time between their victory Saturday night in the 12th Region Tournament championship and the end of their season later this week at the Girls Sweet 16.

“People go their whole lives and never experience this, and I’m super thankful that God’s allowed us to experience it,” Inmon said. “We’re going to soak it in. I’m going to soak in the time with them this next week, and we’re just going to enjoy it and love it.”

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That doesn’t mean DCA is conceding anything in its first-round game at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Rupp Arena in Lexington. The Lady Warriors face a tall order against 9th Region champion Cooper, one of the top teams in the field, but Inmon said they’ll be up for the fight.

“I’ll prepare as hard as anybody can prepare. Whatever God’s got in store is fine, and we’re just going to enjoy it and we’re going to give it everything we have and we’re going to be fine with that,” he said.

As is the case with most overnight success stories, DCA’s seemingly rapid rise to the regional championship has been years in the making. The program has had both successes and struggles in its 14-year history, and the players are grateful for those who preceded them.

“We got here because of the people before us, the people that have paved this path to get us to where we are now,” said Braxtyn Heck, a senior guard who has been in the program longer than anyone on the team. “I’ve been on this team for 10 years, and going from where we started to where we are now, it’s just incredible.”

The team has won trophies before – the Lady Warriors were runners-up in the Kentucky Christian Athletic Association in 2015 and ’16, and they won a National Association of Christian Athletes division championship in 2019 – but they hadn’t won a KHSAA regional tournament game before last week.

Inmon, who is in his 12th season as coach, is a longtime member of the school’s board of directors and was among those who backed its application to join the KHSAA in 2017.

“I said, ‘It took a thousand miracles to get here,’ and from an outside observer we looked crazy for even trying it,” he said. “We had 14 kids in our high school. We were at one of our lowest points (and) God has just blessed us beyond our wildest dreams.”

The school has grown to about 75 high school students, which is still fewer than all but 19 of the 353 KHSAA member schools. Cooper, located in Boone County, has almost 20 times as many students.

Cooper (29-4), ranked No. 2 in the final statewide media poll of the season, won the 9th Region for the third consecutive year with a team led by two seniors who have played for the Lady Jaguars since the eighth grade and who have committed to Division I schools: forward Logan Luebbers-Palmer (16.6 points), who will play at Evansville; and guard Liz Freihofer (11.6), who is going to Eastern Kentucky.

The Lady Jaguars are winning with a defense that has allowed 39.8 points per game overall and 27.6 in the postseason. None of their three opponents in the 9th Region Tournament scored more than 30 points.

DCA, which is 29-1 against Kentucky schools, averages 61.5 points behind 6-4 junior Grace Mbugua, who ranks fifth in the state in scoring (25.4) and second in rebounds (15.4).

Mbugua, who committed to Liberty prior to her freshman year, has increased her scoring this year even as she draws more attention from opposing defenses.

“(I’m) just being more aggressive, being intense, just being strong, being confident knowing I can put the ball in,” she said. “(And) it’s not just me out there. Everyone else can put the ball in the hole.”

Sophomore guard Paisley Metz (12.2 points) and freshman forward Amauri Blackford (10.9) have emerged as scoring threats, and Blackford averages 9.8 rebounds.

Mbugua said she has never been to Rupp Arena, and none of the Lady Warriors have played in any place like it. Inmon said Saturday he wasn’t sure how he would prepare his players for such a moment.

“I don’t know. I really have no idea,” he said. “I don’t even think they’ve grasped what they’ve done yet. … I think the situation is going to be awfully big for them.”